On Giving


Next Wednesday, author Anne Lamott is doing a reading at the Free Library here in the city, and I waited too long to get tickets so now it’s sold out. You might remember I read “Bird by Bird” a while ago when I first started the journey of writing a book. Aside from being the paper equivalent of a warm hug, it was chock full of wisdom and laughter from a veteran of the draining war writing can sometimes be. But one anecdote in particular really stood out to me, in a chapter near the end about writing in the spirit of giving, giving more than you thought possible. That you have to approach your writing selflessly but consistently, and give give give.

“An eight-year-old boy had a younger sister who was dying of leukemia, and he was told that without a blood transfusion she would die. His parents explained to him that his blood was probably compatible with hers, and if so, he could be the blood donor. They asked him if they could test his blood. He said sure. So they did and it was a good match. Then they asked if he would give his sister a pint of blood, that it could be her only chance of living. He said he would have to think about it overnight.

The next day he went to his parents and said he was willing to donate the blood. So they took him to the hospital where he was put on a gurney beside his six-year-old sister. Both of them were hooked up to IVs. A nurse withdrew a pint of blood from the boy, which was then put in the girl’s IV. The boy lay on his gurney in silence while the blood dripped into his sister; until the doctor came over to see how he was doing. Then the boy opened his eyes and asked, ‘How soon until I start to die?’”

I don’t think writing is perhaps as noble as saving a sibling’s life. Though I defy you to read that and not well up even slightly. If you haven’t read “Bird by Bird,” this should change your mind.

5 thoughts on “On Giving

  1. I haven’t read Bird by Bird in ages and it’s well past time for me to pull it out. This post reminds me of two of my favorite quotes. One, by Annie Dillard about writing specifically, and one from Michelangelo, about the creative process in general. I’ve been feeling particularly stuck lately, so I need to pull them both out, dust them off and print them out, perhaps in 144 pt. font to hang on my wall. Here they are.

    From Annie Dillard: “One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

    And from Michelangelo (a note scribbled to a young apprentice): “Draw, Antonio; draw, Antonio; draw and don’t waste time.”

    It’s really all about giving. And not leaving anything behind.

  2. oh my goodness that little boy thought he was giving his life to save his sister. no wonder he needed to think about it overnight. children, when it comes down to it, are so selfless it can be heartbreaking at times.

    like lauren, i also haven’t read bird by bird for, gosh probably at least ten years, but i remember really enjoying it. it was definitely read when i was writing. but i feel like it was just a good read in general and had enough insight to motivate anything one might be working on. xoxo

  3. I’ve never read it, or even heard of it, but that little snippet has me teary eyed and full of “Awwws”.

    It’s funny you should write about giving, giving, giving in regards to writing because just this weekend my brother and I were talking about how if your passionate about something, the only way to really make it worth your time is to devout as much as you can to that passion. Like you and your writing, and it seems you are really devouting so much to your writing!

  4. Darn you! I’ve got a reading list a mile long and now I *have* to read this book. Well, I think I’ve mentioned to you before that I’ve been wanting to read this book. So, yes, now you’ve absolutely convinced me. Guess what I’m doing tomorrow with the kids? Trekking over to the library. That last line of the excerpt you shared was the clincher. The two quotes that Lauren shares above – So good!

  5. I must read Bird by Bird, thanks for the reminder :-)
    Yep you’re right – defo a blub worthy excerpt.
    Sorry you didn’t get the tickets, I guess that leaves more time for writing, hon :-) xx

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